Why Today’s Church Needs the Cape Town Commitment

The Christian life is lived between two poles: memory and vision. Both are necessary for the life of discipleship to Jesus and the faithful witnessing to which Christians are called. Throughout history, God has raised up prophets and visionaries within God’s people who serve to admonish, instruct, and guide the people in the ways God has for them. The ability to call God’s people back to God and to point them in the ways in which they should go is a necessary characteristic of the Christian leader. It has been so in the past and must continue to be so in the future.

The Cape Town Commitment (CTC) is needed today as a tool for such calling back and pointing forward.

On the one hand, it recalls the changes that the world has witnessed over the past forty years, noting in particular the challenges and difficulties that churches face around the globe. The CTC reminds us of our calling to love God and serve our neighbour.

On the other hand, it points us forward, indicating ways in which such love of God and service to neighbour can take place in ever-changing contexts.

When over four thousand leaders from around the world gathered in Cape Town in October 2010, there were feelings of both excitement and apprehension. Excitement about what God could do when so many Christians gathered together in his name, and apprehension over the daunting task before us, and the responsibility upon each participant to take the lessons and challenges learned in South Africa back to our local churches and communities.

One of Lausanne’s greatest gifts to the Church today is to remind it over and over again of the task of Christian evangelism and the character of Christian witness. The CTC has captured some of the main themes that arose out of the Congress and has framed them once again within this call to faithful Christian witnessing.

Of the many themes and issues raised at Cape Town 2010, two stood out as recurring problems within Christian communities around the world:

  1. The decline in biblical literacy
  2. The Church’s failure to see peace and reconciliation as integral to the gospel message

Concerning biblical literacy, it was noted that from north to south, east to west, there is an alarming failure in teaching and preaching the Bible. This is clear in Sunday school settings, seminary classrooms, and pulpits. The Church needs the strong reminder offered in the CTC that the Bible is central to our self-understanding and identity as Christians—it is the word of God that shapes us, that challenges, that revolutionizes God’s people, and that serves as the primary tool for disciple-making.

It is the hope of The Lausanne Movement and those involved in the drafting of the CTC that God’s people will hear the words of the CTC that remind us of the need to study God’s word diligently and faithfully, and the call to teach and preach it with perseverance and clarity. In so doing, the Church is not only called back to faithful living, but learns also to discern the signs of the times and to live as a prophetic voice in service to God’s world.

The second theme of peace and reconciliation appeared in plenary addresses, dialogue sessions, and dinner conversations at Cape Town 2010. Its importance was felt by those involved in discussions about what characterizes the Christian family, about issues of war and violence, racism, and oppression of women.

Peace and reconciliation are also marks of Christian unity and the witness of God’s people—if Christians cannot work toward peace with one another, how can we have a genuine witness to a watching world? In various ways, the CTC calls Christians to work toward such unity, bearing in mind Christ’s words in John 17—unity and evangelism go hand in hand and are signs of the presence of the Spirit in our midst.

To claim Jesus as Lord is to say no to other gods that might try to claim us, including those of violence and greed that divide homes, churches, and communities. The Church needs to heed the call of the CTC to reflect more deeply about the causes and issues that divide Christians from other Christians, and Christians from other peoples, seeking in the gospel message ways toward reconciliation and peace. In doing so, the Church can exist also as a prophetic voice of hope in a world torn by violence and strife.

The two main parts of the CTC, “For the Lord We Love: The Cape Town Confession of Faith” and “For the World We Serve: The Cape Town Call to Action” are both memory and vision for today’s Church. We look back to the scriptures to shape our vision of creation, repenting of the many ways we have failed to live up to God’s will for us as a people. And we look to the scriptures and to our many contexts to envision ways by which we might be faithful today and in the future.

Our collective memories and repentance help us avoid mistakes that were committed in the past. Our collective readings and prayer offer us a vision of faithfulness that needs to be heard by all God’s people, in all churches, everywhere.

Dr. C. Rosalee Velloso Ewell is a theologian from São Paulo, Brazil. She was on the CTC drafting group and on the Lausanne Theology Working Group. She is the New Testament editor for the forthcoming Latin American Bible Commentary and is executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance Theological Commission. She is married to Samuel Ewell. They have three children.